Parental Alienation Affects Mothers as Well as Fathers

man repairing girl bike smallMay 13, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

This is why the anti-dad crowd is so wrong about parental alienation (Sydney Morning Herald, 4/19/13). Well, it’s far from the only reason, but it’s an important one.

Those who reflexively oppose fathers’ rights to custody of their children also oppose the concept of parental alienation and its consequence, Parental Alienation Syndrome. That’s because, as they see it, parental alienation is just a clever ruse devised by unscrupulous fathers to get something they have no right to – a relationship with their children that’s not solely at the discretion of the mother. Over the years, they’ve developed talking points whose only purpose is to discredit PA and PAS in the eyes of whoever is gullible enough to read the nonsense they publish.

So just a couple of years ago Ms. magazine published a short piece that utterly misrepresented PAS. The National Organization for Women is even less circumspect. NOW produced a white paper on PAS that would get an ‘F’ if an eighth-grader turned it in. Here’s my original take on it (Fathers and Families, 7/2/12).

Over almost thirty years, the science on PAS has been building steadily. In the 1980s, six different researchers working independently began advancing the idea that children sometimes were saddled with a parent who was determined to exclude the other parent from the child’s life. Unsurprisingly, the parent’s campaign of alienation often occurred in the context of divorce and child custody cases. They described the parental behavior and its effects on the children with one researcher, Dr. Richard Gardner, calling those effects Parental Alienation Syndrome.

Over the years, countless researchers and clinicians have observed similar behaviors on the part of parents and some have studied the effects on children which turn out to last a lifetime in some cases. By now, there are several book-length treatises on the subject, the most comprehensive of which is Vanderbilt Psychology professor William Bernet’s compendium Parental Alienation, DSM-5, ICD-11. That book includes papers by some 70 mental health researchers around the world as well as 630 citations to scholarly articles on PAS. The undeniable fact of parental alienation is a regular feature of custody cases in courtrooms around the country and the world. Case history after case history has been recorded by researchers like Linda Gottlieb in her recent book The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Family Therapy and Collaborative Systems Approach to Amelioration.

Given this weight of scholarly evidence, how does the NOW Foundation describe PAS?

– PAS is a tactical ploy used by attorneys whose clients (primarily fathers) are seeking custody of their children.

And who are these countless researchers who, over 30 + years have pioneered the study of PAS?

– Proponents of PAS[are] predominantly right-wing “fathers’ rights” groups…

How does the NOW Foundation describe the huge mass of empirical research accumulated by countless researchers in all parts of the globe?

– …no valid, empirical evidence exists for such a mental disorder… The intellectual dishonesty of NOW’s piece would be astonishing were it not so common.

In short, NOW’s opposition to PAS is many things, none of them good. It’s anti-science, anti-intellectual honesty and of course anti-father. Worse, it’s anti-child. After all, severe alienation that results in the syndrome is plainly child abuse. Its purpose is the removal of the other parent from the child’s life. It also seeks to convince the child that a loving parent is actually someone to be loathed and feared. Needless to say, PAS can have long-term consequences for a child’s mental/emotional health.

All of that – the blatant ignorance, the outright lies, the animus against children and fathers – would be bad enough, but actually it’s worse than that. That’s because fathers can be alienators of children just as much as mothers can. We don’t see it as often because so few fathers have enough contact with their children following divorce to alienate them. The simple fact is that alienation takes time and diligence, and when you only see the kids four nights out of 30, that’s not easy to do. And alienation is harder to accomplish if the child has a lot of time with the targeted parent. That time allows him/her to see that the targeted parent isn’t the ogre the alienator has claimed.

So it’s no surprise that mothers are the huge majority of alienating parents. They’ve got the kids and therefore the opportunity to alienate should they so choose.

But what NOW and its disgraceful sisters overlook is that, when a dad does get the majority of parenting time, he too can work on the child’s trust to turn him/her against his ex. Sadly, sometimes this happens. So what NOW and the rest of the anti-father forces do when they oppose recognition of PA and PAS is, in addition to everything else, a direct blow at mothers. If PAS were more widely recognized, mothers would have an easier time demonstrating its terrible effects in court. Non-custodial mothers could have a greater chance to wrest custody from alienating fathers. Astonishingly, NOW doesn’t want them to have that influence in the courtroom. How’s that for “empowering women?”

Which brings us to the Sydney Morning Herald piece in which a non-custodial mother writes in to an advice column with much the same sad story we hear from fathers on a regular basis.

I’ve been separated from my husband for six months and been estranged from my daughters, aged 12 and 14, since then, due in part to his working to alienate them from me. I don’t see them and they don’t respond to my calls or messages. They will occasionally call me but only in their father’s presence and often only to ask questions on his behalf. I hope for an opportunity to rebuild my relationship with the girls through court action but I am terrified by not knowing where to begin. Please help.

It’s not the most heart-rending story I’ve heard, but still makes the point. This mother is the type NOW is happy to ignore. Her ex is destroying her relationships with their kids and damaging the children in the process, and to NOW, that’s perfectly fine. As far as that fighter for women’s rights and empowerment is concerned, this mother and all the others like her can go soak their heads. NOW’s blatant misandry turns out to be anti-mother as well.

Meanwhile, the person addressing the mother’s question is under no such politically motivated illusions. Elly Taylor knows about alienation and PAS and doesn’t mince words.

In the absence of a child’s risk of harm, parental alienation is a form of child abuse. It occurs when a parent attempts to put their own agenda ahead of their child’s vital need to have a positive relationship with both parents.

Check. PAS is child abuse.

Parental alienation can be achieved to different degrees in both overt and covert psychologically controlling ways: expecting the child to take sides, giving the child adult decision-making power, asking them to spy on the other parent, twisting the other parent’s words or intentions, using violence or intimidation towards the other parent in front of the child to make the child submissive, reinforcing poor treatment of the other parent, asking leading questions, and controlling the child’s interactions or phone calls.

If the parent is successful in getting the child to reject the other parent, this is known as parental alienation syndrome, and the children who experience it are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and relationship problems as adults.

Check. Its effects can last well into adulthood.

Alienation can be smoke-screened as “protecting” or “advocating” for the child. and The longer it goes on, the harder it is to address. For these reasons, the court usually needs to intervene to redress the balance of power between parents.

Check. Elly doesn’t say it in so many words, but it’s common as dirt to read mothers’ blogs claiming that the worst possible alienating mothers are just “protecting” their children. Rot. They’re not protecting the children, they’re abusing them, just as Elly Taylor says.

Remember Lori Handrahan? To this day, she claims to have been “protecting” her daughter Mila. Her own special ways of doing so included subjecting a five-year-old to some 21 pelvic exams all of which were negative. She posted photos of the little girl naked on her website. She slammed her against a car in the driving sleet in front of appalled daycare workers. Eventually Handrahan’s bizarre and abusive behavior got her labeled by one mental health professional as the worst case of narcissism she’d ever seen. So abusive was Handrahan that she ultimately lost all custody of her daughter and may not regain it until she has some rigorous therapy that is shown to be effective before she can even be in the child’s presence. Handrahan’s response? She now ignores her daughter altogether, neither contacting her by phone or Skype (which she’s allowed to do) nor keeping up with her child support obligation.

PAS is as real as it gets. NOW’s opposition to its recognition by the American Psychiatric Association is just one more example of the fact that the organization is far more anti-male than pro-female. Plenty of women, in all walks of life, in all sorts of ways, suffer for NOW’s knee-jerk misandry.

The National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

The National Parents Organization is a non-profit organization that is educating the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents and extended families. If you would like to get involved in our organization, you can do so several ways. First, we would love to have you as an official member of the National Parents Organization team. Second, the National Parents Organization is an organization that believes in the importance of using social media as a means to spread the word about shared parenting and other topics, and you can visit us on our Facebook Page to learn more about our efforts. Last, we hope you will share this article with other families using the many social networking sites so that we can bring about greater awareness of shared parenting. Thank you for your support.

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